March's environmental news for the Mountain State were wide-ranging. West Virginia is a state where the environment is threatened by many industries. The water is endangered by both mountaintop removal and natural gas drilling. The air in many coalfield towns is thick with coal dust. Although it's a small state, West Virginia's environmental future is a big question mark.
Let's take a look at the environmental news impacting "Almost Heaven" ...
Bayer announces it will cease production of MIC in Institute
Officials at Bayer's CropScience plant located in Institute have announced they will not be restarting MIC production. This announcement comes after concerned residents won a temporary restraining order that stopped the production of the lethal toxin.
MIC is the chemical that killed thousands in Bhophal, India, when it leaked from a container at a Union Carbide plant.
New rules coming to govern Marcellus shale drilling
West Virginia lawmakers say that they are now ready to act on wide-ranging rules for Marcellus shale natural gas drilling.
The legislation up for review this week covers everything from buffer zones around gas wells to the process for appealing regulator actions. The bill also sets $10,000 permit fees. It proposes annual charges for water storage ponds.
There is also a provision that would compel unwilling mineral owners to sign off on drilling operations.
Chief of security at Massey's Upper Big Branch Mine charged with two felonies
The chief of security at the Upper Big Branch mine, 60-year-old Hughie Elbert Stover of Clear Fork in Raleigh County, has been officially charged with two felonies connected to the investigation of the explosion at the Massey Energy-owned mine.
A federal grand jury indicted Stover late last week on charges of making false statements to federal agents and obstructing a federal investigation.
The indictment states that Stover instructed UBB security guards to notify mine personnel when MSHA inspectors arrived at the mine. Stover denied that such a practice existed. He is also being charged for falsely informing agents that he would have fired any security guard who provided such advance notice.
Charges also allege that Stover caused a person known to the grand jury to dispose of thousands of pages of security-related documents stored in a Massey building near the UBB mine, with the intent to impede the federal investigation.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin says, "With 29 coal miners lost and thousands more waiting for answers about what caused the disaster, this inquiry is simply too important to tolerate any attempt to hinder it. My office will continue to devote every available resource to this most critical of cases."
PATH project off the table in West Virginia
A purposed 765-kilovolt power line that would have spanned from West Virginia to Maryland is officially off the table.
American Electric Power announced Monday it was withdrawing applications to build the line simply known as PATH in West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland.
It is believed that the project cancellation is related to the fact that PJM Interconnection asked the utility companies to delay the 275-mile project.
PJM stated that the project should be delayed because of reduced electrical demand based on a slower economic recovery.
Belle DuPont Plant reports leak
Dupont's Belle Plant reported a leak on Tuesday, March 1.
According to DuPont officials, just after 2:30 a.m. the plant sounded a fume alarm after a sensor detected a leak from a vent at the top of the ammonia tank.
Dupont says its crews quickly closed a valve leading from the tank to the vent.
No was hurt in the incident.
Plant officials say no ammonia odors were detected on site or offsite. They believe about 20 pounds of gas was released.
Plant officials were given the all clear signal just after 3 a.m.
Massey reaches settlement with family of miner killed in UBB explosion
Massey Energy Co. announced that it has reached a settlement with another family of a miner killed in the explosion at its Upper Big Branch mine.
Massey officials revealed this information at the annual report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday afternoon.
No details of the settlement were given, but this is the fourth family that an agreement has received court approval.
Massey still has three more settlements on the table and faces two wrongful death lawsuits filed by victims' families.
EPA makes funds available for Potomac Highlands Project
The EPA has made $1.8 million available for projects to be focused in the Potomac Highlands.
It was announced that American Rivers will create and implement the program. The program will be designed to benefit communities and the watershed.
The highlands cover parts of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.
Ten grants worth $150,000 to $300,000 each will be awarded.
Residents fight proposed quarry in Gerrardstown
Several groups are appealing the permit that would let North Mountain Shale LLC create a quarry near the community of Gerrardstown.
The EPA issued the permit in January for a 100-acre site.
Potomac Riverkeeper Inc., Gerrardstown Presbyterian Church and Washington Heritage Trail Inc. are appealing to the Surface Mining Board.
The group Potomac Riverkeeper Inc. is also fighting the permit with the state Environmental Quality Board.
The groups say that residents were ignored when they complained their quality of life would be disturbed.
The EPA has announced that it will hold two public hearings on objections to a permit for a 100-acre quarry purposed in Gerrardstown, W. Va.
The Potomac Riverkeeper Inc., Gerrardstown Presbyterian Church and Washington Heritage Trail Inc. are presently appealing the permit that was issued to North Mountain Shale LLC.
Potomac Riverkeeper is also fighting the permit with the state Environmental Quality Board.
The mining board says the hearing will most likely be moved from Charleston to Martinsburg and be held in late May or early June. The Environmental Quality Board is also working to relocate its hearing.
Consol Energy agrees to cut environmental impacts at Mingo County Mine
Consol Energy has agreed to reduce the potential environmental effects of an underground coal mine in Mingo County. The agreement is a result of a review of the project by the EPA.
After the EPA's review of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved a new permit for Consol's Spring Branch No. 3 Mine.
So far Consol has reduced the surface part of the operations from 57 to 19 acres and cut its burial of streams from 3,600 to 870 linear feet.
Consol Energy has also proposed to mine 2.77 million tons of coal. Before the revisions, Consol proposed to mine 2.85 million tons.
Mountain lion declared extinct in eastern states
On March 2, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the eastern cougar to be extinct. This declaration confirmed a widely spread belief that the big cat was wiped out a century ago by man.
Federal officials concluded there are no breeding populations of cougars, pumas, panthers, mountain lions and catamounts in the eastern United States. Researchers believe the eastern cougar subspecies has probably been extinct since the 1930s.
Wednesday's declaration paves the way for the eastern cougar to be removed from the endangered species list, where it was placed in 1973.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service fully believes that some people have seen cougars, and that was an important part of the review that we did," said Mark McCollough, an endangered species biologist who led the agency's eastern cougar study. "We went on to evaluate where these animals would be coming from."
Despite several reports of mountain lion sightings in West Virginia researchers say they came up empty. Despite the Service’s findings many residents of West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Mississippi say the big cat exists.
Ray Sedorchuk, 45, an avid hunter and outdoorsman, said he got an excellent look at a cougar last June in rural Bradford County, in northern Pennsylvania. He was in his truck when a reddish-brown animal with a long tail crossed the road. He said he jammed on the brakes, and the cougar stopped in its tracks.
"I could see the body, the tail and the head, the entire animal, perfectly. It's not a bobcat, it's not a housecat, it's a cougar," he said. "It's a sleek animal. It ran low to the ground and stealth-like. It moved with elegance."
John Rose, 48, of Clay County reported seeing a mountain lion. "It came out of a field and crossed the road about 20 feet ahead of me. It hit the hillside and disappeared into the woods." Two other residents of that area also reported seeing the big cat.
The wildlife service said Wednesday it has no authority under the Endangered Species Act to reintroduce the mountain lion to the East.
MSHA head tells Congress more laws are needed to keep mining safe
Joe Main, the federal head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration testified in Washington, D.C., and told Congress it should pass more laws to help his agency do a better job of keeping the nation's underground coal miners safe.
Main says MSHA needs stronger laws to protect whistle blowers and to levy criminal charges against operators who deliberately cut corners on safety.
Main says that he wants lawmakers to collaborate on a bipartisan plan that would support good operators and hold bad operators accountable.
Officials say earthquakes in central West Virginia are not linked to Marcellus shale drilling. Officials have also stated that there is no link between minor earthquakes that shook central West Virginia late last year and natural gas drilling.
More than eight earthquakes with magnitudes between 2.2 and 3.4 were reported in Braxton County in 2010.
Michael Hohn with the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey states that after the agency did a thorough investigation, they couldn't find a link between drilling operations and the earthquakes.
The EPA was also unable to connect the earthquakes to natural gas drilling.
Lower New River cleanup in process
Government agencies, conservationists and other groups are now working to clean up pollution in the Lower New River.
The New River Clean Water Alliance and Downstream Strategies published a draft stating that pollutant levels in many New River tributaries are above clean water standards. About 270 miles of streams are impaired by fecal coliform.
A public meeting to gather community input was held at the Canyon Rim Visitors Center.
The National Parks Conservation Alliance hopes to build community support for developing solutions.
A final report is expected by May 1.
MSHA says it will not release crucial UBB mine documents
MSHA has announced that it will not allow crucial documents from the Upper Big Branch Mine investigation to become public. It is said that the paperwork could contain proposed ventilation problems in the weeks prior to the explosion. MSHA also outlined changes that Massey asked for and it denied.
Up until now MSHA has refused to release the documents to an independent investigation team or to Senator Joe Manchin. At this time MSHA has not stepped forward to explain its reasons for keeping them private.
Federal investigation results of UBB mine explosion has release date
Officials in charge of the federal investigation into the Upper Big Branch mine explosion have announced that they will hold a briefing on their findings in early June. The answers come well after a year of the deadly explosion that took 29 lives.
Families of the victims are planning a private memorial to be held before the findings are released. The memorial will not be open to the public and will be a chance for family members to be together prior to hearing the final results of the investigation.